Anti-Harassment Q&A

No matter a person’s position or title, harassment and inappropriate conduct are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. NIH’s anti-harassment program supports a culture of civility and respect to create a safe work environment. Harassment doesn’t work here.

The entire NIH community, including trainees, contractors and visitors, must work together to RECOGNIZE, REPORT, and RESOLVE harassment and inappropriate conduct. Below are responses to questions you may have about harassment and related NIH resources.

What is harassment?

Unwelcome, deliberate, or repeated unsolicited verbal or physical conduct based upon race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability (i.e., a protected class status), including, but not limited to, comments, gestures, graphic materials, physical contact, solicitation of favors, when:

  • Submission to or rejection of the conduct by an individual could be used as the basis for employment decisions affecting the individual; OR
  • The conduct is severe or pervasive enough that it substantially interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. 

What is sexual harassment?

A form of harassment that involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, severely or pervasively interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. 

What is inappropriate conduct?

Inappropriate conduct is much broader than the definition of harassment and does not have to be based on a protected class status.  It may include similar behaviors, such as comments or conduct that could reasonably be perceived as disruptive, disrespectful, offensive, or inappropriate in the workplace. 

What behaviors do not meet the definition of harassment or inappropriate conduct?

Some workplace behaviors are problematic, and should be dealt with, but do not rise to the level of harassment or inappropriate conduct. This may include misunderstandings of behavior by other staff members, non-threatening and non-inappropriate arguments or disputes, a miscommunicated or misinterpreted comment or similar isolated incidents.  If you are ever in doubt about whether or not a behavior constitutes harassment or inappropriate conduct, please contact the Civil Program for further guidance and always err on the side of reporting.

How can I report harassment or inappropriate conduct?

Can I talk through my options confidentially first before officially reporting a concern?

Confidentiality indicates that what one says is private or secret and no further action will be taken. To discuss your concerns with an office that operates under principles of confidentiality are not required to take action, please call:

Please note that management officials cannot guarantee confidentiality to staff when it comes to allegations of harassment.  If a federal or non-federal worker reports an allegation that meets the definition of harassment, including sexual harassment, to any supervisor or manager, they must contact the Civil Program.

Can reports be made to the Civil Program anonymously?

Although reports cannot be made to the Civil Program confidentially, they can be made anonymously, which means the reporting party does not have to identify themselves.  However, Civil Specialists and management officials have to follow up on all allegations of harassment and cannot guarantee that the reporting party’s identity will not become apparent during this process.  Also, remaining anonymous requires key details about the allegation or concern to be omitted, which will limit the NIH’s ability to conduct an inquiry and take corrective action as warranted.

How does the NIH work to resolve harassment or inappropriate conduct?

Appropriate action for federal employees may include, but is not limited to:  written counseling, reprimand, suspension, demotion, or removal from one’s position and/or from the Federal Service.  Such actions may also be considered when making administrative decisions related to funding, staffing, and other resources. 

If the offender is a Government contractor, corrective and/or disciplinary action will be the responsibility of the contracting company and negative performance may be recorded in the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS), if warranted. 

What is the difference between reporting harassment to the Civil Program and reporting harassment to the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion?

Reporting a concern to the Civil Program is not equivalent to or in lieu of filing an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Complaint of Discrimination. The Civil Program carries out NIH’s responsibility to conduct an administrative inquiry on an allegation of harassment or related inappropriate conduct.  This is a stand-alone requirement to ensure that all allegations of harassment and inappropriate conduct are examined and addressed expeditiously. 

An EEO complaint is initiated by the employee and the process is focused on investigating and resolving discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability (i.e., a protected class status). It prevents the recurrence of unlawful discriminatory conduct, but cannot require an agency to discipline its employees.  Employees must contact the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion within 45 days of the discriminatory incident to file a Pre-Complaint of Discrimination. 

Once an EEO complaint is filed with an allegation of discriminatory workplace harassment, the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion will notify the Institute/Center/Office (ICO) and the Civil Program of the allegation, which will initiate NIH’s obligation to conduct an administrative inquiry.  The line of questioning will be similar for both processes, so you may ask the Civil Specialist if you can use your EEO submission for the Civil inquiry process.

Does a complaint to the Civil Program have to be made within a certain timeframe?

There is no timeframe to report an allegation to the Civil Program. However, old information may limit the NIH’s ability to conduct a thorough inquiry and take corrective action. This timeframe differs from the EEO complaint process in which a complaint must be filed from 45 days of the discriminatory treatment.

Will I find out the results of the administrative inquiry?

The reporting party will receive notification that the inquiry is complete and that Civil Specialists are working with management to ensure a safe and civil work environment, but no other information will be provided. Civil Specialists do not release reports or findings, as they are responsible for safeguarding the privacy of all staff.

To learn more about what you can do to help create a civil work environment, visit

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